1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Settlement, Act of

SETTLEMENT, ACT OF, the name given to the act of parliament passed in June 1701, which, since that date, has regulated the succession to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland. Towards the end of 1700 the need for the act was obvious, if the country was to be saved from civil war. William III. was ill and childless; his sister-in-law, the prospective queen, Anne, had just lost her only surviving child, William, duke of Gloucester; and abroad the supporters of the exiled king, James II., were numerous and active. In these circumstances the Act of Settlement was passed, enacting that, in default of issue to either William or Anne, the crown of England, France[1] and Ireland was to pass to “the most excellent princess Sophia, electress and duchess dowager of Hanover,” a grand-daughter of James I., and “the heirs of her body being Protestants.” The, act is thus responsible for the accession of the house of Hanover to the British throne. In addition to settling the crown the act contained some important constitutional provisions, of which the following are still in force. (1) That whosoever shall hereafter come to the possession of this crown shall join in communion with the Church of England as by law established. (2) That in case the crown and imperial dignity of this realm shall, hereafter come to any person not being a native of this kingdom of England, this nation be not obliged to engage in any war for the defence of any dominions or territories which do not belong to the Crown of England, without the consent of parliament. (3) That after the said limitation shall take effect as aforesaid, judges’ commissions be made quamdiu se bene gesserint and their salaries ascertained and established; but upon the address of both houses of parliament it may be lawful to remove them. This clause established the independence of the judicial bench. (4) That no pardon under the great seal of England be plead able to an impeachment by the Commons in parliament. The act as originally passed contained four other clauses. One of these provided that all matters relating to the government shall be transacted in the Privy Council, and that all resolutions “shall be signed by such of the Privy Council as shall advise and consent to the same”; and another declared that all office-holders and pensioners under the Crown shall be incapable of sitting in the House of Commons. The first of these clauses was repealed, and the second seriously modified in 1706. Another clause was framed to prevent the sovereign from leaving England, Scotland or Ireland without the consent of parliament; this was repealed just after the accession of George I. Finally a clause said that “no person born out of the kingdoms of England, Scotland or Ireland, or the dominions thereunto belonging (although he be naturalized or made a denizen) except such as are born of English parents, shall be capable to be of the Privy Council, or a member of either House of Parliament, or enjoy any office or place of trust, either civil or military, or to have any grant of lands, tenements or hereditaments from the Crown to himself, or to any other or others in trust for him.” By the Naturalization Act of 1870 this clause is virtually repealed with regard to all persons who obtain a certificate of naturalization. This and some of the other clauses amount practically to censures on the policy of William III.

The importance of the Act of Settlement appears from the fact that, in all the regency acts, it is mentioned as one of the acts to the repeal of which the regent may not assent. To maintain or affirm the right of any person to the crown, contrary to the provisions of the act, is high treason by an act of 1707.

See T. P. Taswell-Langmead’s English Const. Hist. (1905); H. Hallam, Constitutional History, vol. iii. (1855); and L. von Ranke, Englische Geschichte (1859–1868).

  1. The title of king of France was retained by the British sovereigns until 1801. Scotland accepted the Act of Settlement by Art. II. of the Act of Union.